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Finally, the river (06/23/2013)
By Frances Edstrom


I am a river rat, if not from birth, like my husband, then from adoption of Winona as my home. My boat has been ready for weeks to get out there, but the weather and river didn’t want to cooperate with me. My first river trip of the year was last Monday night, June 17, one of the latest first trips in a long time. There was the year that it was in July, but that was a rarity.

I went out with my daughter Morgan, her husband, Dan, and their two children, Peyton and Andie. The kids know that they can not be out on the river without life jackets, so there is no argument from them. I have begun to wonder if I would be able to swim to shore in high water, and decided I couldn’t. So I bought myself a nice life jacket at Fleet Farm. It’s blue. The boat’s requisite number of life jackets are all neon orange, not exactly my color.

We spent a few minutes with the cleaner and paper towels to get the winter dirt off the seats. A vacuum cleaner will have to be hauled down there for further cleaning. I also brought a duster, for the incredibly intricate system of cobwebs my spider friends can weave during a nice, long winter.

[Warning: no Sheriff’s deputies can read the next part!]

As we left the dock, I remembered that my new registration card and numbers were in my desk drawer at the office. My decision: abort the trip or take a chance? I took the chance. I was sure to get the numbers on before the next trip, however. We filled up with gas and took off for the sloughs.

We like to start out through Bathhouse Slough, past the boathouses. Rather than noodle along next to the boathouses and risk the stink eye from the year ‘round residents, who detest the coming of summer and other boaters in their ‘hood, we took the Wisconsin side.

As we approached the Old Wagon Bridge, it was clear that the water was still high, as the water roiled around the pilings and I had to goose the engine to get through. Then I gave everyone the willies when, as I gave it some gas again, the boat cleared under the railroad bridge by mere inches. The kids didn’t seem to know there was a danger of ripping the bimini top off the boat. Just as well! The adults all turned pale, though.

We cruised under the Interstate bridge, and on up past our cottage in Pollywog Slough. We pointed out the various snags along the way so we would remember the next time to be careful.

“Snakes! Where are the snakes?” cried Andie. We explained what a snag was, much to her relief. We looked for turtles on logs, but saw only one. The girls had a good time spotting little fish jumping to show where the big fish were feeding, eagles flying and sitting high in dead trees, herons taking off with a squawk and flying swiftly to somewhere. And, of course, there are the hundred or so turkey vultures that sit on the electrical transmission towers that cross the river just upstream of the Winona Marina. Where do you think they hung around before rural electrification?

The flood threw our cottage dock up on the bank, and sent the gangplank down river where it got caught in a huge tree stump. The dock is back in place, thanks to our neighbor Sherm and a passel of young men who reveled in jumping in the water and horsing the dock around. But the gangplank needs work, so we couldn’t stop, even though the kids wanted to. They are at the age now when they remember things from year to year, and like to talk about it.

We turned around and came back to Winona. It was getting to be near bed time. I hadn’t had supper, so Morgan and Dan brought me some fish (fresh, courtesy of their neighbor Dave) and rice, which was delicious fare while cruising the river. Most places you’d have to pay a pretty penny to eat a great meal and watch a river roll past. I even had a beer, which isn’t my usual drink, to toast to another year on the Mississippi.

When we approached the Old Wagon Bridge again, there was a group of teenage girls standing at the railing, looking at the water. Peyton, fascinated, hollered up to them, “How do you get up there?” And they hollered back. Now she knows, and her parents will worry that when she’s old enough to ride her bike over to Latsch Island she’ll be one of the kids we see diving from the bridge, like her grandfather, uncle, and great-uncles did. Maybe even her mother! I never asked, reluctant to know.

Happy Summer, friends! Finally. 


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